Germany vs NZ: How I beat the winter chill

Yes I’ve made it! No more being cold in winter!

After an unusually warm autumn, winter has finally arrived with a vengeance.

Yesterday morning, Gregor and I went into town for the German Language Meetup. Blue sky, sun shining, breakfast by the beach basking in the warm sun.

2 hours later, greetings from Antarctica with a strong Southerly blowing, the hills in cloud and the first drops of rain falling.

Overnight, the temperature in the house dropped to a cozy 10 degrees. Winter, there you are….

But this time, I was well prepared. Seriously well prepared. Winter, this time I will laugh at you because I have won the battle against the cold.

So here’s the secret to how I beat the winter chill.

Layer 1:

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Close fitting cotton T-Shirt and bottom warming nickers. Forget about flimsy underwear. We’re into some serious thermal insulation business here.

Layer 2:

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Speaking about thermal insulation,next is the layer of good old polyprop thermals, plus a pair of woolen socks.

Layer 3:

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This is my favourite one as I get to wear all those soft warm Merino jumpers I bought from the second hand shop for a bargain. Add a pair of fluffy lamb fur boots and thermal pants and the world is not looking so unfriendly anymore.

Layer 4:

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Nearly there! Beanie on my head, down jacket zipped up to my chin and track pants on. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m stuck behind a computer most of the time, it would be all good now.

Layer 5:

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Big thumbs up for my final line of defense against the cold: My pink sleeping bag!

As I write this, I’m in full winter combat gear and smiling. Hell yes, big time, from one ear to the other.

STUFF.THE.COLD.

In Germany, you just turn up the heating when winter arrives.

Here in New Zealand, you pile layer upon layer. We have the OECD’s coldest houses here. Not a record to be proud of for sure. If you think about it, actually quite embarrassing for a so-called developed country.

NZ may be God’s Own Country, but it’s certainly not paradise. If you layer up though (or spend mega-bucks on heating), you can have a good life here.

 

Germany vs NZ: Barbecue

Today I’ve spent most of the day setting up my new computer. Each time I thought I was done, I realised that there was something else I still needed to do. But now I really have it all sorted.

Yesterday I went to the German Language Meetup barbecue. It was sooo German: Charcoal. Men at the barbie, and the women had brought salads. Beer. It took a good hour until the embers were ready to put the meat on, and by then we all were starving. Excellent German sausages, and marinated pork. And Jaegermeister to aid digesting the excessive amount of food.

So what’s the difference really in how a Kiwi barbecue looks like?

There is no hungry wait for the meat – you start off with nibbles. Beer but also wine. When it’s time to progress to the mains, just turn on the barbie, it’s gas, and 10 minutes later the meat is cooked. Meat that’s not normally marinated, and sausages that don’t even deserve to be called sausages because they are so BAD. Then everyone eats too much (no difference to the German barbecue here). No Schnaps, just more beer and wine.

So Kiwi style barbecues are more like a quick outdoor meal. Whereas German barbecues are an event that takes several hours.

Germany vs NZ: Small talk

Yesterday, I hosted my second German Language Meetup. It was really nice again, with a good mix of people and good conversations.

One item we discussed is how much easier small talk is in NZ compared to Germany. The reason is that in NZ, there’s a script that small talk generally follows. It goes like this:

A: How are you?
B: I’m good, and yourself?
A: Not too bad. What a lovely day today, it’s really spring now.
B: Yes, and the forecast is lookong good for the weekend, too.
A:That would be nice, after all the miserable weather we had lately.
B: Any plans for the weekend?
A: On Saturday, my eldest has a rugby game on at his school, so I’m taking the whole family there. And on Sunday, my wife and I want to clean out the garage. What about you, any exciting plans?
B: Not really to be honest. I might just get the grocery shopping done and then sit in the sun with a good book and relax.
A: Nice. So what are you going to read?
B: ……

…and the conversation continues….

In a nutshell, you start off politely asking each other how you are doing, then move on to the weather, and/or the weekend coming up or the weekend that’s just ended depending on what’s the case. By then, there’s a good flow of conversation established and you just take it from there.

Really, it’s that simple. It’s like a little dance with a choreographed intro and by the time you get into improvisation, your muscles have warmed up and your moving in sync with your partner.

Whereas in Germany, there’s no such socially agreed script or choreography to help you. Unfortunately, using the NZ approach in Germany probably wouldn’t work because first of all, your partner in the dance wouldn’t know the moves.

Then some of the NZ moves would literally mean to step on your German partner’s toes:

Enquiring about how the other person is doing is somewhat intrusive if the other person is not a good friend or family member. The same applies to asking people about their weekends.

Also an NZ cue to do one thing might mean something entirely different for your German partner:

In German culture, talking about the weather is what you resort to if there is nothing else left to say. It’s an indication that the conversation has reached a low point, and that it’s time to find someone else to talk with. Rather than the perfectly valid and common way to strike up a conversation which it is in NZ.

Isn’t it bizarre that in Germany where there’s a rule for everything, there’s none to guide you through small talk.

Germany vs NZ – food and food culture

I haven’t written about Germany vs NZ for a long time. Here’s one I just really have to do as it’s such a fundamental one. Food and food culture!

They belong together, yet I’d first like to talk about food.

When it comes to food, you can have everything here, the good, the bad and the ugly. You can get some excellent produce here if you have the money. The fish, the beef and lamb, the fruit and vegetables can be excellent. There’s a much bigger range of different fish, fruit and veg available than in Germany, and if you by NZ produce, it’s fresh.

Fruit, veg and grains also don’t have to be expensive if you do what I do, which is buy directly from the producer. Just as an aside, I also find it a lot more satisfying to know who grows my food, and knowing that they know me.

Enter the average NZ supermarket, and you’re assaulted by cheap crap. It’s actually a mental effort not to give in and just pick the good stuff, e.g. the fish, the organic yoghurt and butter that I had on my shopping list. Most times, I win and walk out with what I wanted to buy only. On rare occasions, I surrender and buy some seductive looking crap, only to take a few bites and then leave it behind on the next park bench because it’s just fat and sugar that doesn’t even taste nice.

So that much about food quality. If you have the money, the brains and the will power, then it’s all good.

Now let’s look at food culture. That’s an interesting one as from a continental European perspective, you could either say that NZ simply doesn’t have a culture around food at all, or you could say that it’s pretty awful.

I’m not just talking about table manners which are informal to the point of off-putting here. Ever seen an attractive, well educated woman slouching over dinner and bending to get their mouth to their spoon instead of lifting it to their mouth? Let alone using knife and fork…

My main point is that I think the non-culture here shows a profound lack of appreciation of food and of the person who prepared it. If someone has cooked for a group of people, there is not necessarily waiting for the cook to sit down and then start the meal together. Everyone may just start eating once they have their plate. To me, this disregard of the cook is plain rude.

Then the meal doesn’t necessarily even take place at a table. It’s by no means uncommon that it’s on the sofa, with your plate on your knees, TV on, and everyone watching. Everyone focussing on the TV not on the food!

Now if the food is an utter disaster and really you can just get yourself to swallow it by distracting yourself from it, then this would explain it. But generally speaking, it’s not so bad that it would fall into this category.

If it’s not the TV, then it’s the computer. People cook their dinner, then retreat into their rooms and eat it over their computers. Again focusing on something else not the food. Not even fully appreciating the food they have prepared themselves.

This focus on the distraction, and the general preference of this distraction over actually having a conversation with someone over dinner is deeply unsociable in my view. It takes the heart out of eating which is feeding your body AND your soul.

In continental European culture like the German culture, meals are a sociable thing. In German flats, meals are a reason to turn off the TV. Taking your dinner into your room is a sign that you’re either seriously unhappy in your flat, or seriously weird.

Going out for lunches with people from work is nice though as this actually is a sociable thing. So that’s one of the few occasions of eating with Kiwis that I do. And I do bring a cake for morning tea when it’s been my birthday.

The difference is that in Germany, you would usually bring a homemade cake, and if you don’t you apologise. Here, it’s pretty normal for people to bring convenience food from the shops and no one thinks much about it.

To me, considering convenience food as not much different to home made food is again a sign of lack of appreciation for preparing food yourself, and of the cook.

So in terms of food culture, I’ve long ago decided to stick with the German way. It wasn’t a difficult decision, as it’s a choice between culture and non-culture. And even though this makes me different, there’s no question that I’m happier that way.

Germany vs NZ: Christmas

It’s that time of the year again where I’m most aware of the seasons being the other way round here.

Christmas just doesn’t work for me here. Not just that, it actually spoils my summer feeling (if there is such a thing as summer in Wellington at all, but that’s a different story).

Christmas here has an altogether different feel to it than Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s not a time of retreat where you’d light a candle, make yourself a nice hot drink and then relax you the well heated cozy flat.

No, Christmas here is about bright sunshine, barbecues and a ridiculous number of work lunches or team building events. My work’s Christmas party on Friday had a cruise ship theme!!!

So I personally don’t do Christmas at all here. For me, it’s summer soon and the summer holidays just a week away. A time to pack my tramping & camping gear, to head off down South on Friday night. A time to have ice cubes handy for a glass of whiskey in the evening. A time to stick your feet into the sea to cool off.

It’s actually not that hard to ignore the Christmas thing. You simply don’t notice glittery colourful & lit up decoration very much, as the whole world is lit up, glittery and colourful at this time of the year anyway, at least when the weather is nice.

The real downside of Christmas in summer though is that there is no Christmas in winter! Winter is just long, dull and unpleasant here all the way, and a festive season is really missing from it.

It’s a gap that I think could easily be filled by celebrating Matariki (the Maori new year) more widely. It would also be nice as it would put a Maori event on the national calendar of things to celebrate as a nation. And it would help to strengthen a unique NZ culture and identity.

Anyway, time to have a nice light lunch now and some of the delicious cherries we’ve been getting from the farm in the last couple of weeks.

You all have a great holiday, and a nice Christmas if you celebrate it!

Germany vs NZ – climate & weather

Oooh, that’s a funny one. While Germany and NZ both are mostly temperate, NZ weather is a lot more… well, temperamental.

Overall, it’s milder than German climate, with cooler summers and warmer winters due to sitting in the middle of a vast ocean. However, microclimate plays a by far bigger role here in NZ and differences in climate between different regions are quite significant.

Wellington is a prime example: It’s extremely windy here, hence it’s considerably cooler than even just a little bit further up North or down South. Or take the fairly dry East coast of the South Island, and compare this with the West Coast which is incredibly wet.

Another difference of course is that NZ is quite a long country, so while the top North is slightly subtropical, Stewart Island in the very South is almost subarctic.

What concerns the weather, this is a lot more changeable here than in Germany. Whatever weather usually doesn’t last more than a few days, and even within one day it can go from warm and sunny to cold and wet, and back again. The good thing is that you know that if the weather is absolutely horrible right now, in a few days it will be nice again. And even on the most horrible days, the sun usually comes out at least briefly.

When looking at what global warming will do to the climate in the next few decades, it looks like NZ will be less impacted as the ocean will apparently work as a buffer for a few decades. Funny that even the climate is a bit backwards here – which of course is great in this case!

Germany vs NZ – Trade Me

This may seem like a bit of a weird topic to you – writing about the NZ equivalent of Ebay, which is Trade Me. So the first notable thing is that NZ has got its own thing, whereas the rest of the world, or most of it, has Ebay.

Then the rules are also slightly different. But the really interesting bit is that used stuff sells for quite a bit more than in Germany. So while in Germany, from a seller’s point of view, you get very little and it may not even be worthwhile to put the stuff you want to get rid off on Ebay at all, here it’s time well spent.

Washing machines are a good example. In Germany, you’d get a good used front loader washing machine for as little as 50 or 100 Euros. Here, you’d look at about 500 dollars, which is about 300 Euros.

So it seems that in a less affluent society like NZ, proportionately more people have to buy used stuff because they cannot afford to buy new, hence there’s more demand for used goods and the price for it goes up.

In a way that’s great, since things get re-used rather than dumped. On the other hand, it’s not so good for poor people who will have to pay more for the essentials than would be the case in Germany.

What it’s done for me is that I appreciate my stuff a lot more. Another factor in this is that things aren’t as available here than in Germany, but that’s a different story. In any case, I hope that my precious front loading 1450 spin washing machine will last many more years.

Germany vs NZ – Housing

Let’s face it – NZ housing is crap. The typical NZ house:

– is not insulated
– doesn’t have double glazing
– has draughty windows & doors
– has no or insufficient heating (which then would usually be a fireplace or gas heater in the lounge room)
– is outdated regarding its wiring & plumbing (electric fuse wires only not whole fuses, separate taps for cold and hot water, water-wasting single dual flush toilets).

If you then look at what the typical reasonably affordable rental property is like, you can add “run down” and “outdated interior design” to this list…

The really important thing about what that all means is that the temperature inside a house is usually about the same as outside. For half of the year, this is seriously uncomfortable at 10-14 degrees, with another few months with temperatures of about 15 to 17 degrees, which is not exactly cosy but sort of ok. This is Wellington I’m talking about – up North it would be a bit warmer, and down South it would be quite a bit colder.

Another issue is that it can get really damp, with the windows fogging up and the water running down the glass, for example if you don’t keep the windows open when cooking.

The house I live in is a typical NZ rental. It’s actually pretty good, as our house is fitted with a powerful flued gas heater in the lounge, and a fan heater in the bathroom. For my bedroom, I’ve got a little electric heater, and I also have a dehumidifier for the lounge room, should it get so damp that opening the windows doesn’t do it anymore.

You may now say “Why don’t you just turn up the heater”. Well, yes, that would make the place a bit warmer & dry it out at the same time. But consider that there’s no insulation, single glazing and if it’s windy like on most days, there’s also a draught. So most of the heat is going out the window or through the roof, which makes it pointless to heat a lot, and it would also be really expensive.

It’s not like housing is cheap here you know – I’ve never paid so much rent before (and our rent isn’t very high at all for Wellington). But in a way it’s hard to compare it with Germany, as housing like this simply doesn’t exist in Germany. Also while housing quality is lousy here, it’s still often a detached house with a bit of a backyard and garage. Basically more space (and in our case also a view of the sea), but uncomfortably cold most of the year & not very flash…

Why and how I’ve been able to put up with this for four winters by now? A great job where I spend most of my time, fantastic flatmates who also do their bit to keep the place dry, and a long holiday somewhere warm during winter…

Germany versus NZ – work

A while ago, I said I would write a bit about Germany versus NZ. Now that I’ve been here for almost 4 years, I feel I have a more than just superficial idea about the country and can actually do meaningful comparisons. To give it a go, I will first talk about work, as this one of the things that I really like here.

NZ has turned out to be a massive job opportunity for me. I’ve never dreamt of doing what I do now, and would have never expected that I could get that sort of job that I have now. A country where a straight path of career is not that important clearly suits me a lot better than Germany where you have to justify every twist and turn your life has taken.

Also, age discrimination isn’t as much an issue here as it is in Germany. People well into their 50’s still change jobs here, and no one would think of them as old. The perception here is that they are actually really valuable, as they know a lot and are so experienced.

Both of what I’ve just said means that I’m a lot more optimistic now what concerns my work perspectives over the mid- to long term. I just feel more free here – more free to do what I want or need to do, and more free of worries about my professional future.

Just judging it by what people in Germany have told me about their work situation, I now also believe that work is more relaxed here. I cannot really compare with my own work experience in Germany as this was very relaxed and sometimes even quite boring as there was nothing much to do.

But as I understand now, this must have been clearly unusual. So what I’ve heard from Germany is lots of pressure, and also lots of overtime, at least occasionally (of course there is a productivity/ financial side to this; more about this later).

Then also the way people treat each other at work is very relaxed. Having a chat with people at work about non-work stuff like what you did on the weekend is actually much more important here for relationship building than it is in Germany. Being German, this can sometimes feel like a waste of time though when you want to get something done. In those moments I have to remind myself that this bit of chatting serves the relationship, and hence is actually crucial to get things done in the end!

Another big difference is how mistakes are being dealt with. Making a mistake is not such a big deal which makes it easier to admit mistakes in the first place, and it also reduces the pressure not to make mistakes in the first place. Of course this is not all good – it also means that mistakes aren’t followed up properly, and that the motivation to avoid them is lower.

To pick up productivity & salaries again: They are a lot higher in Germany (about 30%), with cost of living being about the same in Germany and NZ. It’s like living in Munich on East German wages.

So this may sound awful, but only as long as you don’t enter real work hours into the picture. To give an example: A friend of mine who is a civil engineer has recently applied for jobs in Hamburg. She said that her salary in Germany would be 1.3 times of what she earns here. But then again she would have to work a 60 hour week! What that means is that her hourly rate in Germany would be lower than here.

Other things I like about working in NZ is that there is no expectation that work is the absolute number one priority in life. In particular people with families feel a real difference here in that work life is much more accommodating of having children.

Last but not least, there also seem to be more women in top positions. Of course most of the top dogs are male, but the ratio between males and females is definitely a bit more balanced.

So that’s why like working here.